Current farming techniques haven't changed much over thousands of years. Yet the people who eat the food that comes from farms no longer live next door to them. So the food has to be transported ever-greater distances - sometimes thousands of kilometres - to reach the market.
A new business model is badly needed to overcome the environmental and cost issues caused by the current model. One such model is vertical farming, which, as the Wall Street Journal notes:
"Is based on one simple principle: Instead of trucking food from farms into cities, grow it as close to home as possible - in urban greenhouses that stretch upward instead of sprawling outward....The immediate benefits will be easy to see. There won't be as many delivery trucks guzzling fuel and belching out exhaust, and city dwellers will get easier access to fresh, healthy food."
Early development of the concept has taken place over the past decade in the USA, where a variety of different buildings (including a former meat-packing facility in Chicago) are now in use. It is also now spreading world-wide.
One of the most advanced versions is in Sweden, where farmers are experimenting with a 12-storey farm in Linkoping, as shown in the chart:
• It will plant out on the ground floor, and then move the plants during their growing cycle from the top to the bottom floor for harvesting
• Plantagon, the company behind the project, also plans to lease out office space in the building, to help increase profitability
Of course, it is still early days for the concept, and its economics are not yet close to those of conventional farming.
But as we describe in Chapter 11 of Boom, Gloom and the New Normal, companies such as Bayer MaterialScience have already developed EcoBuilding projects as part of their climate protection strategy. Adding an agricultural element to such activities may well make good sense for the future.